Lentils and Rice

This is not so much a recipe as a suggestion. If you know how to cook lentils and you know how to cook rice, it’s no further along the bounds of creativity than that (save the throwing in of whichever curry powder you like best).

However. Here you go.

Cook rice. Best Basmati is the obvious choice. Put the dry rice into a saucepan and cover with water until there is as much water as will reach the first crease of your little finger if you lightly touch the top of the rice with the tip. Salt and bring to the boil; reduce the heat and simmer until there is no water left. CHECK IT. There’s little as annoying as puddingy rice.

Dice an onion finely, and saute in a fair bit of oil for as many minutes as it takes to make the onion translucent and yellowy.

Grate a few cloves of garlic into the onions, add a couple of scoops of curry powder, stir madly for about 30 seconds. Add dry lentils and cover with stock or salted water.  Less is more with lentils (bit like pasta).

This was a staple of my childhood and I love it.

No pictures – the camera has taken permanent residence in the depths of Himself’s van – but if it’s tasty and it’s curry-y, then you’ve got it right.

Sultanas add sweetness; tomato puree adds depth and the benefits of using stock (even a bouillon cube) cannot be underestimated (though watch the salt content).

Oatcakes Extravaganza

Oatcakes may not have the reputation as hedonist food, but to Magpie they are the greatest. Rich with butter and plastered with whatever your imagination delimits you have, they are vehicles of destruction. Self-destruction, if you will.

If you’re buying them, beware of palm oil, that bitter, earthy (like cement) flavour permeates the taste buds and wantonly wastes the opportunity for a little bit of joy.

But wait. Stay your hand; move it away from your wallet. Back off from the supermarket and leave your trolley in the car park. There are few things more pleasurable than devouring your own creations (that, after all, is the point of this site).

This recipe works and is even easier than scones or cakes or anything.

Preheat the oven to about 190 deg C.
Take just over 8oz rolled oats and whizz in the food processor until it’s as fine as you like. Bang the full 8oz into a bowl and chuck in 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, a healthy pinch of salt (Maldon of course)* and 2 tbsp melted butter. Combine with 1/4 pint of water until you have a stiffish, stickyish dough.

Heave the dough out onto the work surface which you have sprinkled liberally with the remainder of the oatmeal. Roll it out until thin, and cut into shapes or rounds (using a glass in this case).

Using a metal spatula or a fish slice, gently lift them on to an ungreased baking tray and shove in the oven for about 15 – 20 minutes. They don’t want to be brown, but just that light honey, beige.

Cool before consuming because they crumble when hot.

* Magpie loves Nairn’s cheesy oatcakes, so she also threw in 2 tblsp grated Grana Padano cheese at the dry ingredients stage.

Meal of the Week: the Kings Head, Ravenstonedale.

The Decisions:
Me: Ham hock terrine, (because I am always insanely jealous when other people order it) and rib eye steak (because the steak and ale pie was sold out), and chocolate creme brulee.

Garden Pea Soup in good hands
Garden Pea Soup Gone

Himself: Garden Pea Soup (more for the bread than the soup, I suspect) followed by the rib eye again (for the same reason as above), and sticky toffee pudding.

Mother of Himself: Salmon fillet, and sticky toffee. Salmon because she didn’t want a lot of food at that time of night and sticky toffee because they’d sold out of strawberry cheesecake.

I can only speak for myself, though the pictures do say it too.

The terrine was succulent, substantial shreds of ham populating a well seasoned jelly. Plenty of ham. It came with what was described on the menu as picallili. Cadmium yellow cauliflower florets, two tiny onions and a piece of carrot. Not picallili as I thought I knew it, though the pieces tasted like it.

As I ate it all up, I realised that the dry pickles were essential for the balance with the succulent terrine. They foiled the richness and didn’t add extra goop to the plate. An edge of sweetness was added with a swirl of molasses-sweet syrup, just hinting. And though I pined for thickly buttered, brown bread, it couldn’t have been possible. The portion was quite substantial enough for a greedy starter. It is the greedy person’s continual lesson that their eyes are bigger than their stomachs.

The rib eye steak came exactly as I had asked (medium-rare, erring on the rare) with more than enough giant wedge chips and hidden beneath the steak was half a Portobello and some roast cherry tomatoes with their stalks still in.

Rib Eye

No green veg to take your mind off the prize. More importantly, no side salad cluttering up the plate. The steak juices that lightly washed the plate gave each mouthful a warm, spicy suggestion. The tomatoes were sweet and juicy and the mushroom seasoned just so.

Chocolate Creme Brulee

The chocolate creme brulee was divine; heady, addictive and lucious on the tongue. Its accompanying homemade shortbread biscuits crisply broke and then melted in the mouth. The combination of the rich chocolate and a slight malt cream basenote was a hedonist’s luxury. Added to which, the portion was generous. So often creme brulee is presented in a wide, shallow ramekin. It could have been 150ml, maybe even more.

It was a rocking meal. Big flavours with modernism and tradition at its core. The Kings Head in Ravenstonedale is a must-eat for any who haven’t been yet.

Deep Fat Freedom

There’s a lot of joy to be had in frying food in the depths of glistening, bubbling oil. I’ve heard that organic, extra virgin coconut oil is the height of hedonist happiness, but my mum’s always said that coconut oil is more criminal than beef and I just can’t do it to myself. Suicide by organic oil. Sunflower is my effort to find a ‘healthy’ alternative – at least it’s low in chloresterol – though there’s little that’s healthy about deep fat frying.

But… If we can have everything in moderation, then we can still revel in the pleasure of deep frying. And to respect it as an act of cooking, it should be something worth eating. Not just leaden, breadcrumbed lumps of hybrid meat (some of them are mixed with fish) from a freezer bag, or frozen chips or scampi.

The orangey-yellow of aubergine halfmoons as they sizzle in spicy batter (curry powder, gram flour, water, salt); their warm flavour as they hit your mouth, slightly salted and too hot for your tongue; these joys are at the heart of deep fat frying.

Onion bhajis are also easy to make and have a strength of flavour and texture that you don’t get in commercial products. They are so pretty, spiky balls of dark terracotta contrasted with the white kitchen roll.

Falafels are pretty close to being healthy. Unlike battered foods, the oil doesn’t penetrate the whole piece and the chickpeas inside are cooked by heat. Freshly made falafels, still sizzling in the air can be greedily consumed with burned fingers and hot spices popping in your mouth. It doesn’t have to be as urgent, but it’s all about appreciation. And they are so full of fibre and protein that it doesn’t take many to fill you.

We’re so lucky in the U.K. Most of us don’t have to worry about whether or not we will eat. The least we can do is eat food worthy of the name and enjoy it.


250g dried chickpeas. Soak for at least 8 hours.
Take 1 tsp coriander seeds, 4 tsps cumin seeds, 2 tsps salt,  a large handful of parsley, 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 small egg and mix with the uncooked, soaked chickpeas in a food processor until it resembles fine gravel.

Clag the gravel together in your fingers to shape an uneven croquet. If it doesn’t stay stuck together, add another egg and process the mix again to combine.

Heat the chosen oil in a large pan until it reaches the temperature that would brown a cube of bread on entry to the bubbling mass. Or guess. There’s nothing wrong with trial and error.

Form a series of croqettes, dropping them into the hot oil  one at a time. It’s easier if you fish them out in batches but safer if they go in one at a time.

Enjoy them however you see fit. It’s your duty.

Falafels, picante tomato sauce and green salad

Malabar Prawn Curry, Magpie stylee

The smart curry learner gets the ingredients ready in groups, bowled-up like a TV cookery show. When you’re ready to get the show on the road, it will only take around 20 minutes to make.

100g creamed coconut melted into milk with 400ml water
1 tablespoon tamarind extract diluted in 100ml water

1/4 tsp mustard seeds
10 dried curry leaves

half a biggish onion, sliced thinly end to end

3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 heaped teaspoon grated ginger
4 green chillies, cut lengthways in half.

1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin powder

2 tomatoes, chopped

200g (it will take 300g) prawns *preferably raw but needs must when the Devil drives.*

3 tablespoons of oil (yes, THREE).

Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the curry leaves to allow the oil to become infused with the flavour. Add the sliced onion and fry for 5-7 minutes. Keep stirring, the onion wants to be slickly yellow and flavoursome; not edged with dark brown.

Add the ginger, chillies and garlic. Fry for 2 minutes and then add the dried chilli and the powders. Add 2 tablespoons of water and stir to prevent sticking. DON’T BURN THE SPICES.

Add the chopped tomatoes, 100ml water and tamarind extract. Simmer for 5-10 minutes while you put on the rice. 

Pour in the coconut milk, salt the curry, stir and let it rise to a simmer. Taste. Too hot? Tough. There are ways to reduce the heat, but this isn’t a curry to kill. The tamarind will have given it a warm, sour flavour; salt is not needed in as great a quantity as you might expect.

Add the prawns, bring to a brief simmer again and serve with lashings of raita. (Diced cucumber and onion in cooling plain yoghurt).

Strangely, it doesn’t even begin to resemble the glorious sunset red of the photograph in the book, but the taste is unusual and heady and despite the accidental over application of chilli flakes, is not as hot in the dish as it is in the pan.

Stewed Blueberry Heaven

Hedonism in a dish:

Take one packet (or more) of variously sized fresh blueberries.  Dump unceremoniously in a saucepan.

Add a few teaspoons of sugar to lift the high,  flowery notes that will appeal to tastebuds located somewhere near your ears.

Pour a little water in the bottom, just enough to prevent the berries from sticking to the bottom of the pan before they release their juices.

Add heat. Add a lid to the pan.

Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 5-10 minutes. Not too long – this superfood will be more Mr Muscle than Super if you cook all the vitamins out of it.

When the berries have cracked and let go of their purple essence and the sugar has dissolved to make a thin syrup, they are ready.

And why should we eat these tiny fruits? Apart from their cooked attractiveness, what else should enamour them to everyone?

Full of vitamin C, manganese, soluble fibre and with a dash of vitamin E, they couldn’t be wrong for us.

They also stop our brains from decaying: well, maybe that’s going a little far, but their anti-oxidant properties mean that if we ate enough of them, we could at least offset a little of the brain degeneration we cause through all the ghastly things we absorb. The ellagic acid which is also found in blueberries is known to prevent cancer and the kaempferol found in them (and also in those other superfoods, broccoli, spinach and tea) could even protect our women from ovarian cancer.

I’d rather be eating blueberries than taking vitamin pills.

You (we) Are What You (we) eat

We don’t just feed our bodies with fuel from the earth’s great bounty. We also feed them with man made rubbish, full of chemicals and pain. If not pain now, then pain in our futures. If not pain in our personal prospects, then pain for our world: the earth and her invisible inhabitants we don’t look to see.

If it isn’t covered in plastic, carried on a black polystyrene board and well-travelled, heat-treated and utterly divest of any natural bacteria, we don’t feel safe. But it is a paradox. We are the safest if what we eat is unmade and simple.

We don’t just feed our bodies. We feed our souls. If we feed our souls the brightly coloured, cellophaned hellbits*, they become addicted to the manufacturers’ dreams. One slice of freezedried, battered, frozen devilfood coming right up. There is only one way to go if your appetite takes your soul this way and down is a big part of that.

Heaven is the only way to go; and with that, hedonism. Glorious cream dishes, with bulghur on the side. Anchovies melted into garlicky, mushy onion, adorning pasta shells, followed by simple, stewed blueberries, glistening in the scant teaspoons of dissolved sugar. Life can be so much sweeter than anything an international chemical company can invent.

Don’t just subsist. Sustain your soul.

*Glossary: Hellbits: that which if we knew what went into them, we wouldn’t feed the cat. Not even a mangy, stray ginger tom. Like kitbits but without the cute kitten commercials and added vitamins. Now with NEW freezedried chicken brains!